KNOXVILLE — Going into Saturday's game at top-ranked Alabama, Tennessee is still shuffling its offensive line.
The Volunteers (3-3, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) have played four starting combinations in the first half of season and could trot out a fifth combo against the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0).
"I think every game is different," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "Football is a game of matchups. Against one team you may match up a particular way. Against another team you may match up another way. Obviously, it's evolving."
Tennessee's starting five on the offensive line was the same the past two games. But after giving up seven sacks during this past Saturday's home loss to South Carolina, the Vols might be thinking of another change.
An option Tennessee has yet to try this year is having seniors Jashon Robertson and Coleman Thomas on the field at the same time.facebook
Robertson, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 300 pounds, has started at center in five games but has struggled with his snaps at times. Thomas (6-5, 309) has played mostly at center in college and has 28 starts for the Vols, though just one of those has come this season — against Massachusetts when Robertson was injured.
Robertson could move to left guard, which would push senior Brett Kendrick (6-6, 318) back to right tackle, where he has started three times this year. The Vols have played sophomore Marcus Tatum (6-6, 281) at right tackle the past two weeks.
With expected starting right tackle Chance Hall ruled out for the season in August due to injury and the midseason decision of left guard Venzell Boulware to transfer, depth has become a concern for the offensive line.
The other offensive line starters the past two games were redshirt sophomore Drew Richmond (6-5, 309) at left tackle and freshman Trey Smith (6-6, 320) at right guard.
"It's always a challenge when you're shuffling up front," offensive coordinator Larry Scott said. "But that is what it is. That's where we are. You coach them all the same. They work hard, they want to do well. We're just going to keep doing what we have to do each and every week to put them in the best possible situation to have success."
On Wednesday, Jones said the next few days of practice were critical for the offensive line and that coaches will continue to move individuals around due to the lack of depth.
On Wednesday, Jones said freshman safety Cheyenne Labruzza will be out for the season and undergo knee surgery next week. Labruzza, who was moved from cornerback to safety earlier this year, has played in four games.
With Labruzza out, the Vols hope senior Evan Berry can return soon at safety, where the Vols are thin on personnel. Berry is questionable for Saturday's game.
"He (Berry) also worked at the safety position yesterday," Jones said. "It was great to have him back. We have to be patient as well that we don't give him too much from that standpoint.
"Theo Jackson is another individual who continues to gain valuable repetitions. Then moving some other people around, whether it's Rashaan Gaulden or what have you — that's a position where we're very limited from a depth standpoint."
Jones also said senior tight end Jakob Johnson has been at practice and will be available and senior cornerback Justin Martin was back at practice.
Freshman defensive end Deandre Johnson is also questionable for Saturday, while redshirt sophomore defensive end Darrell Taylor remains suspended and will be out for the game.
Contact staff writer Rob Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org.